W07 – Intellectual Traditions of the Ancient Near East Transmitted through the Hebrew Bible

Organizer: Dominik Markl


  1. David S. Vanderhooft (Boston College)
  2. Jeffrey L. Cooley (Boston College)
  3. Ilona Zsolnay (University of Chicago)
  4. Abraham Winitzer (University of Notre Dame)
  5. Georg Fischer (Universität Innsbruck)
  6. Peter Dubovský (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum)
  7. Eckart Otto (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  8. Dominik Markl (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum)
  9. Cornelia Wunsch (SOAS University of London)

General Abstract

The Hebrew Bible is one of the preeminent media that transmitted the intellectual heritage of the ancient Near East to later periods. The contributions of this workshop will investigate specific expressions of ancient Near Eastern intellectual traditions within the Hebrew Bible, which influenced, through its subsequent wide dissemination, later developments in cultural history.

General Contact: markl@biblico.it  

Paper Titels with Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

Babylon as Cosmopolis in Judean and Achaemenid Perspectives
David S. Vanderhooft  (Boston College)

The city of Babylon, and especially its legendary Hanging Gardens and mammoth defensive architecture, captured the imagination of Greek writers. Yet Judeans and Persians likewise acknowledged the city’s cosmic associations. In the Judean tradition, the ˁîr ûmigdāl, “city and tower,” of Babylon (Genesis 11) occupy a preeminent position in reflection about Babylon’s cosmic aspect, but even quotidian references in other texts show a relatively high degree of familiarity with and speculation about the city, especially by comparison with all other non-Israelite cities. Meanwhile, a joint Italian-Iranian archaeological expedition has recently uncovered the remains of a monumental gateway to the west of the Persepolis plateau that they conclude dates from before the era of Darius, from the earliest period of Achaemenid rule. The new discoveries, especially their architectural and decorative parallels, have implications for understanding the Persian affirmation of Babylon’s cosmic aspect. The contrasts between Judean textual refractions of Babylon’s image and Achaemenid architectural ones illumine distinctive, pre-Hellenistic, ways of accommodating the heritage of Babylon.

ÉŠ.GÀR mi-ša-dia-hu-ú: The Book of Isaiah as a Mantic Series
Jeffrey L. Cooley (Boston College)

It is increasingly accepted that the book of Isaiah had its genesis in divinatory practice, namely, as oracles ostensibly from the eponymous prophet offered to Judean kings for guidance under precarious geopolitical circumstances (e.g., de Jong 2007). Most scholarship on the growth of the book considers the development of Isaiah as hindsight literary qualification in the light of continually novel historical circumstances, thus resembling similar explanations of the development of other biblical books such as those of the Pentateuch (thus, e.g. Williamson 1994, Stromberg 2010) or the composition of so-called ex eventu prophecies from other ancient Near Eastern texts (e.g., the Šulgi Prophecy, the Marduk Prophecy).
Here I augment redaction-critical appoaches concerning Isaiah’s formation in light of two considerations. The first is the increased willingness over the last couple of decades within biblical studies to characterize Judean prophets, like Isaiah ben Amoz, as diviners alongside their ancient Near Eastern counterparts (most recently, Stökl 2012 and Nissinen 2017). The second is the fact that our earliest evidence of interpretation of the biblical book in both its developing (e.g., Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah, Hag 2:14) and final forms in later periods (at Qumran and in the New Testament) shows that, whatever its history of growth was, like its mantic genesis, it was mantically received: though Jewish interpreters understood the book as the product of the original 8th century prophet, it was nonetheless interpreted as oracularly relevant for novel situations. Thus, in both its presumed origin and in its final reception, the book was a tool of divination.
Since the best documented models of functioning, growing, and “canonical” divinatory texts from the ancient Near East are, of course, the Babylonian mantic series, such as Enūma Anu Enlil and Šumma Ālu, in this working paper, I reconsider the redactional problem of the biblical book in terms of its mantic origins and continual divinatory reuse and broaden the comparative enterprise beyond strictly prophetic texts (cf., Sanders 2017).

The Sulky and Abusive Nature of the Gods: Permutations of Erra and Išum in the Hebrew Bible
Ilona Zsolnay (University of Chicago)

In my article “The Inadequacies of Yahweh: A Re-examination of Jerusalem’s Portrayal in Ezekiel 16,” I contend that Ezekiel’s Yahweh brutally attacks his city-wife Jerusalem in order to force the city to cling to him as an abused spouse will cling to their abuser. I argue that Yahweh does this out of a gross sense of insecurity. In the conclusion of the piece, I muse that Yahweh’s hot temper seems more in line with those of the great Greek gods Zeus and Hera or the Mesopotamian gods of war Ištar and Erra than those of a deity of an exiled people. In this session of the RAI, devoted to the transmission of ancient Near Eastern intellectual heritage through biblical text, I will consider my observation that Ezekiel’s Yahweh (at least in this chapter) is not unlike Ištar or Erra. He is defensive, abusive, and very much a martial deity. Like Ištar and her actions against the mountain Ebih when it did not bow down to her awesomeness, the response of Ezekiel’s Yahweh to Jerusalem’s perceived disrespectfulness is to devastate. Erra, a deity of peace (through war) responds with similar violence on an unsuspecting (and seemingly impertinent) Babylon. The focus of this talk will be the transmission of the ancient Near Eastern themes of enslaved humanity, city devastation, and cultic upheaval as depicted in Sumerian texts, their reinterpretation in the late Babylonian epic Erra and Išum, and the resonances of this poem’s Deity of Peace in the Hebrew Bible.

World Literature as a Source of Israelite History? The Legacy of Gilgamesh in Ezekiel 16
Abraham Winitzer (University of Notre Dame)

The place of ancient Near Eastern literary sources in the construction of Israel’s story is, of course, indisputable – and a foundation of the modern study of the Hebrew Bible. Most typically, however, this concerns the “prologue” to Israel’s later presentation of a more normative historiography, including the Primeval History’s reliance on Mesopotamian belletristics and the depiction of Israel’s covenant with its deity with respect to Near Eastern treaties and law codes. When it comes to “real” history writing, things are different. Naturally, in this arena, too, the Bible’s reliance on traditions external to Israel is often detectable; but whether these reflect written sources is another issue altogether. This raises an interesting question: were external perspectives of no consequence when it came to Israelite historiography, or can one point to evidence suggesting that Biblical historiography also made use of sources from outside Israel? The following strives to offer one example of this by turning to the history of Israel as told in Ezekiel 16 and the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic. I will argue that a specific portion of this celebrated text was employed in discernible ways to augment the depiction of Israel’s history in Ezekiel 16 and thus to transform it to its current standing. At least in this instance, I will suggest, stories from the broader world served to frame Israel’s incomparable history.

Mesopotamian Synchronistic Historiography and its Connections with the Bible
Peter Dubovský (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum)

This paper will examine Mesopotamian synchronistic historiography, in particular, ABC 21 and 22. I will focus on the techniques Mesopotamian scribes employed to synchronize the history of Assyria and Babylonia. Similar historiographic techniques occurs in the Books of Kings. Comparing these two corpora, I will investigate the influence of Mesopotamian historiography upon the Books of Kings and upon the way of thinking and writing history.

Esteem and Irony – Primeval History’s Use of Ancient Near Eastern Motifs
Georg Fischer (Universität Innsbruck)

Genesis 1–11 share common motifs, especially with the epic of Gilgamesh and the Atramhasis epic. The biblical creation stories, the flood narrative and the “Tower of Babel” episode display familiarity with these works and raise the question of how to interpret it. The use of those sources is a sign of their relevance; critical features, however, are to be noted, too, and show a different worldview.

The Intellectual Heritage from the Neo-Assyrian Empire to the Achaemenides in the Western Reception History of the Book of Deuteronomy
Eckart Otto (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

The lecture presents case studies in the reception of motives of Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenide royal ideologies in the Book of Deuteronomy and their impact via the Christian reception of this book on western political theories of legitimation of political power and human rights.

The Rhetoric of Power in Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaties and in Deuteronomy
Dominik Markl (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum)

Previous studies (esp. by Hans Ulrich Steymans, Eckart Otto and Bernard Levinson) have shown the close similarities between Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaties (EST, 672 bce) and some texts in Deuteronomy (especially Deuteronomy 13 and the curses of Deuteronomy 28). The discovery of an almost intact copy of EST at Tell Tayinat in 2009 (edited by Jacob Lauinger) has strengthened the historical plausibility of the exposition of a copy of EST in Jerusalem and its direct influence on an early version of Deuteronomy. The present paper will compare the use of rhetoric of power in EST and in Deuteronomy, focusing on four areas. First, the general address of a public audience by an authoritative voice in second person and the exceptional appearance of a voice in first person plural in commissive speech acts; second, metatextual references to and authorizations of the written document (the adê and the “book of the torah” respectively); third, instructions concerning the transgenerational transmittance of the document’s normative content; and fourth, the role of deities in the rhetoric of power. In all four areas, the analysis will show both structural analogies and differences. While EST is a document of immediate written rhetoric of power used as a means of imperial politics, Deuteronomy’s employment of similar techniques is transformed to a higher level of complexity through its embedding into a larger literary complex.

Nebuchadnezzar II: Achievements and Image
Cornelia Wunsch (SOAS University of London)


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